Sometimes, those of us who see the need to improve leadership to achieve better results are accused of having only a leadership hammer, so everything is a leadership nail. So, why do I continue to stress leadership? Because, as John Maxwell says repeatedly, EVERYTHING rises and falls on leadership.
I have been a certified Lean Six Sigma Expert (Raytheon’s term for a Black Belt) since 2004 and an ASQ Black Belt since 2006. Over that time, I have led or participated in hundreds of improvement projects, large and small. Some of these projects have been spectacularly successful, and others that used all the right tools, used them properly, and had apparently near flawless improvements came to nothing. So, what’s a continuous improvement practitioner to do? Analyze, and drive to root cause. I quickly noticed some projects with no charter, shaky documentation, and bare bones improvement plans delivered outstanding results. These projects had strong leaders. One of my early projects was chartered as a Six Sigma project but wound up applying mostly Lean tools to reduce waste on an equipment repair task for the US Army. The team lead was all in. She gave us tremendous support, and demanded improvements be delivered and sustained. Result – $5M improvement almost immediately, with the customer sending us more business the following year due to improved turn-around time.
I also noticed projects with a flawless charter, outstanding documentation, and a great improvement plan that achieved nothing lasting. One such early project was a product development that required certification for some parts and processes. The certification process was well defined, and the external certification authority was willing to work with us to turn around the documentation paperwork. Internally, however, we could not deliver approved documentation to the certification authority on time. The team developed an improved process to internally process and approve the documentation. The anticipated change would have resulted in a certified product available, with anticipated sales of $84M in the current year. The team lead and the Black Belt (me) did not properly account for the existing culture and did not anticipate the resistance to such an obviously needed (to us) change, and did not properly lead change to implement the new process. The product did not get certified that year, and the company did not get the needed $84M in revenue that year. Had I better understood leading change, and been able to lead the team better, the company would have been $84M better off that year. Believe me, I went to school on that one!
Any improvement project is focused on achieving better results. To achieve better results, the team must CHANGE SOMETHING.
If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.
To get a better result, a different result, you must change what is done. If the inputs remain the same and the process remains the same, we have no reason to expect a different result.
A different input or a different process is a change. If the change is not compatible with the organization’s culture, there has to be a recognition of what has to happen to change the culture of the organization.
Changing culture is like moving a cemetery;
you don’t get much help from the residents.
It requires leadership to communicate the need for change and guide the team through the change process. So, back to the start; Why Leadership? Every improvement project requires a change be implemented and sustained. Implementing and sustaining a change requires leadership. Improving leadership will improve your business.
*Perhaps “Disputed” would be more accurate than “Unknown.” Most popularly, a version has been attributed to Henry Ford.